Ah summer camp! Who doesn’t have fond memories of their days at Camp Mosquito, swimming, hiking, canoeing, sitting around the campfire making s’mores and telling ghost stories, desperately hiding your crush on the boy in the next bunk but secretly hoping he feels the same way…
Two new summer series debuted last week, each angling to capture that camp nostalgia and each including gay characters. One of them is really bad and one of them is pretty good. First, the bad.
USA Network’s Summer Camp is a reality series pitting two teams of eight against each other in a “boys vs. girls” competition. Each of the contestants is identified by either a character trait (“The Mean Girl”, “The Class Clown”) or an occupation (“The Soldier”, “The Model”). Gay contestant Kyle Kleiboeker is “The Broadway Performer” so it kind of works as both, I guess?
I can’t confirm that Kyle has ever appeared in a Broadway production but he does have tours with Rent and Hairspray. Kyle doesn’t actually use the G word himself, but he does have color-coordinated headbands for every outfit, so there you go.
With 16 contestants we don’t get to spend a lot of time with any one individual, but Kyle does get an awkward moment when he attempts to bond with Justin (“The Hunter”) over a pair of Kyle’s camo and blaze orange underpants.
Justin’s immediate reaction is to allow that while they are in his favorite color scheme, those shorts are awfully small. But in an interview he notes that he’s uncomfortable with Kyle since he’s never been around someone with that “lifestyle”. But he’s not one to judge, because he has the Good Lord do to that for him! For his part, Kyle recognizes Justin’s discomfort but denies that he’s trying to create drama (liar!) although he does believe Justin needs more “culture”.
For their part, the girls plot to subvert Kyle to their team because of course the gay guy wouldn’t want to “hang out with all that testosterone”. Later they select him to participate in a “color war”, or team challenge, that involves canoeing, assuming he’ll be one of the weakest competitors. The joke is on them since fellow camper Chuck (“The Sci-Fi Nerd”) is an Eagle Scout and he guides his team to victory.
The show also seeks to recreate the first kiss/summer love aspect of the camp experience, with several mixed-sex pairs of campers cast in the obvious hope that they would couple up. Sadly, unless one of the other guys has a secret, it appears Kyle will be left out of that side of things.
Summer Camp is the sort of show that screen caps and animated GIFs were invented for. Some enterprising masochist will cap/GIF all of the eye candy—and there is plenty of eye candy—and we can look at the pretty boys without having to engage this dopey mess ourselves.
NBC offers Camp, which bears no relation to the 2003 film of the same name. The series is set at a family camp (think Kellerman’s from Dirty Dancing but multi-ethnic) and centers around the camp’s owner, Mackenzie Greenfield (Rachel Griffiths) as she struggles to recover from the financial and emotional toll of her recent divorce. Camp follows her, her son Buzz (Charles Grounds) and a group of counselors and campers. Among the camping families is a mixed-race same-sex couple, Todd (Adam Garcia) and Raffi (Chris Kirby). They are raising two adopted children together, Grace (Charlotte Nicdao) and Fyodor.
We first meet the family at the General Store where Todd and Raffi are stocking up on camping supplies, by which is meant copious amounts of alcohol. Later the guys serve as a sounding board/snark chorus for Mackenzie following her one night stand with a rival camp director. We don’t see any more of them this episode and they’re pegged as recurring cast but we can hope they’ll have a more prominent role as the season progresses.
Their daughter Grace gets an interesting throughline with Buzz. Grace approaches him at a bracelet-making table and asks him to teach her how to make them. He agrees to show her how to make the “faggy” bracelets and she’s appalled he would say that to her, knowing she has two dads. He says he didn’t mean it to mean “gay” but “retarded” which he doesn’t realize is no better. Later she calls him “Reverend Fred Phelps” (he doesn’t get the reference) and later still a couple of Buzz’s CIT friends suggest that if he doesn’t want to be viewed as a jerk he should probably cut words like “faggy” and “retard” out of his vocabulary. In the final moments Buzz seeks out Grace to apologize, explaining that he gets it now and will drop his use of “the F word in all its forms” and “will throw the R word on the bonfire for good measure.” It’s a nice teachable moment, rendered somewhat less subtle by the fact that when he says “faggy” Buzz is literally wearing a hat shaped like a jackass.
Camp is not great television. But between its moderately clever writing, engaging performances, the gay representation and a boatload of attractive guys in swim trunks it’s certainly worth a look.
Camp airs Wednesdays at 10 PM EDT on NBC. Summer Camp airs Thursdays at 8 PM EST on USA.